3 Train Wreck Link Schemes You Didn’t Even Know Had Hit You

Summary

MOST webmasters of medium-sized and bigger sites are getting hit by one of these schemes right now…and some of you are getting hit by all three. And just because you’re not seeing a precipitous drop in traffic (yet!) doesn’t mean your backlink profile isn’t edging its way over the precipice where Google starts losing trust in your site.

Train wreck link schemes Photo courtesy Tom Brandt on Flickr

But Daddy…Google SAYS They Ignore Those Naughty Links

…and you believe everything Google tells you, don’t you?

If you’re of the mindset that Google is all over this game of spotting and ignoring spammy links, check out the #1 winner AND the #1 loser from SEMrush’s chart on the November 2021 Google Update, in this Search Engine Land article. Here’s the big winner:

MedMalRX - pure spam

And here’s the top loser:

My Health On - loser

Sigh.

First, then, let’s talk about the train wreck that’s hitting most websites.

Artificially Inflated Moz DA

This is a scheme that a RIDICULOUS number of publishers are using to boost their Moz DA. Why? Because when you’re selling article placement/link placement, you get paid more the higher your DA is. I spoke about this on a 2022 SEO Predictions podcast with Veracity Marketing recently.

Here’s how it works:

  • Start with a nice, soft DA 10 site
  • Do a Google maps or image search for your domain name
  • Now, you’ve got a page with 10 links on it…all to your site…all from a domain with a DA over 90
  • Rinse & repeat across 20-50 different Google country TLDs.
Shazam! Your little DA 10 site now has 500 links from DA 90+ sites. Give it a week or so, and your Moz DA is now 50…60…even 70 or more. Here’s what it looks like in Moz Link Explorer:

Moz Link Explorer

It’s actually a LITTLE more complicated than that…it’s not a regular image or maps search–if you drill down into those links, you hit pages that look like this:

Redirect

Why are those links green? Because I’ve got my Moz Toolbar turned on, and enabled Followed Link coloring. Yep, that’s a followed link from a Google domain.

It’s a neat trick, but Google isn’t fooled. Most of those sites don’t rank in the top 5 pages for any of the article titles on them. Some I’ve found are penalized.

So what does mean for you?

If you’re paying people to build links for you, most likely some of their publishers have been playing this game. If so, you might have been paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for links on domains that aren’t worth squat for helping you rank.

Note that I’ve seen two distinct groups of publishers like this. Some of them have plenty of legit links, and have just “supplemented” their DA (and link pricing!) by taking Google SERPs steroids. Others have built nearly their entire backlink profiles this way.

Want to save yourself some time? I have a disavow list of the ones I’ve found so far that are playing this game.

Update from the folks at Moz:

“Moz is aware of attempts to manipulate DA for some sites, using techniques like the ones mentioned in this article. In some cases, these have had a significant effect on DA scores, although these cases represent a vanishingly small percentage of our index.

Nonetheless, we’re taking steps to address this, and also to make sure we’re more robust to any future similar exploits.

In the meantime, we recommend, as always, that users looking to assess the value of a link consider DA alongside other metrics, especially PA, Spam Score, referring traffic, and more subjectively the quality and relevance of the linking page.”


Negative SEO: Sneaky Redirects

Like much of negative SEO, the tactic here is to build a collection of sites that are pretty much guaranteed to get penalized by Google. Then, you sell links on them to ethically-challenged webmasters, who have you put links to their competitors across all these sites. Some of these are programmatically stuffed with porn words or photos; some redirect to malware; some have themselves linked to by lots of toxic sites.

The latest trick in this game is to redirect to a legit site, like a well-known travel site, or a credit card site (I’m seeing a lot of what’s in your wallet!), or even Google itself. My best guess is that this is intended to make link analysts like me think it’s just an URL shortener redirect (most of the links are very short domain names plus a short URL after that) to a legit site, and so I won’t think I need to disavow it.

These have exploded over the past couple of months, and a whole bunch of my clients’ sites have been hit by these. There are about 2500 domains in my list so far.

Negative SEO: Computer-Generated Content

Here, what’s happening is they’re deliberately generating a massive amount of gibberish text on an EXTREMELY simple site template. They’re expecting Google to recognize that it’s generated (are you there yet, Google?), and penalize the site.

This has come on the scene just in the last 30 days or so (that I can tell)…and it’s come on with a vengeance. The last 3-4 sites I saw hit with this each had thousands of these domains linking to them all over a period of just a couple of weeks.

The pattern in those is that the link URL itself MOSTLY looks legit…maybe it’ll look like a forum page, or a tag archive page, or a WordPress plugin URL or upload. But…in the middle of the URL there’ll be a slug, usually 4 to 8 characters, of jumbled characters. Often, the URL will end in .html (but not always). Here’s an example:

http://innomindcreations.com/qtot2le9/gift-ideas-for-senior-night.html

If you think you might be under one of these kinds of attacks, feel free to download my disavow lists from this page.

I’d link to some of the negative SEO example sites, except that (a) I’d hate to cause someone to get redirected to malware, and (b) the perps will probably pull the site down a few days after I publish this. Last time I published my negative SEO disavow lists, my site was absolutely HAMMERED with a new attack within a few days. So they’re reading this.